Experience, chemistry and a bit of smarts can go a long way in keeping a band running on more than musical talent. Texas country-rock foursome the Eli Young Band, who play Waco’s The Backyard on Saturday with Jon Wolfe, is proof.
The band that formed 17 years ago from four University of North Texas students still retains its original lineup of lead singer and writer Mike Eli, guitarist James Young, bassist Jon Jones and drummer Chris Thompson. Three of them, including Jones, still live in the general area, having settled in Fort Worth and its suburbs.
The Eli Young Band continues to top country charts. Its 2014 album, “10,000 Towns,” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums Chart, and the single “Saltwater Gospel,” on the upcoming album “Fingerprints,” was a hit last summer.
And years of heavy-duty touring have taught band members how to say no at the right time. That’s led to a more family-friendly performance schedule that emphasizes long weekends, bigger venues and a mix of clubs, fairs, festivals and casinos.
“For years and years, we were saying yes to everything,” bassist Jones said. Trimming their touring back in recent years gave them more time at home and allowed them to focus on the shows they have. “Three of us have really young children,” said Jones, father to a 4-year-old son and a 5-month-old daughter. “The country music scene revolves around the weekend much more . . . (Being selective) has made life very comfortable.”
After performing at last summer’s Margarita and Salsa Festival, the Eli Young Band returns to Waco on the edge of a new album, “Fingerprints,” set for a June 16 release.
Time, talent and success not only have allowed Jones and his colleagues to find a balance in performing, but they’ve also given band members more say in what they record.
“We had a lot of freedom to record. We were able to make the record we wanted to make for our fans,” Jones said. “It’s come full circle. We’re staying in our wheelhouse — not overproducing, not layering too much.”
What “Fingerprints” offers is what Jones considers the essence of the Eli Young Band: strong melodies, songs with good messages and “more rock guitars.” Those are the ingredients behind such million-selling hits as “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” “Crazy Girl” and “Drunk Last Night” and Jones said they’ve carried four college friends with a vision further than they imagined.
“There was hope when we started that we’d be able to do this for some time . . . but seeing 17 years into the future? I’m not that naive,” he said.